Laura Staines Giardino
She discovered that being a spectator couldn't compare with participation and in the early days of women's college athletics, Laura Staines Giardino trained with the Penn men's rowers. It led to the Olympics.
It was at the petite final, a consolation race for pairs without coxwain at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, that Laura Staines Giardino and her partner Sue Morgan finally got the headwinds they needed to row their best. They had a poor start and, in the early going, were dead last.
"I could see everyone else got off," says Staines Giardino. "We had strategies we followed and just forgot about the competition. The last 250 meters we just went faster and faster and then we were in front. We went from last to first place. She regrets that the preliminary rounds were raced in tailwinds that favored lighter boats, and believes that she and Morgan would have fared well in the medal final if they had the chance.
Staines Giardino never considered rowing until she arrived at Penn. Her roommate's brother rowed for Ted Nash, the men's coach, and she started as a spectator. Intrigued, when she discovered that coach Joanne Wright Iverson was attempting to assemble a first-ever Penn women's crew team she decided to give it a try.
During the course of the year the team dwindled to two rowers and Iverson brought in women from the Philadelphia Girls' Rowing Club. They practiced with the College Boat Club out of the Penn boathouse. Many of these athletes were not Penn students.
That summer Staines Giardino practiced in both an eight boat and a four at the College Boat Club with rowers from all over the country. She developed an effortless style that prompted Coach Nash to promise her that if she kept it up she would one day row in the Olympics.
The first time Staines Giardino ever rowed in competition was at the 1972 National Championships that summer. Both her eight boat and her four boat won.
The next year she continued to row for the College Boat Club under Iverson and Nash, as there were still not enough Penn women to field a team. Her junior year Iverson was able to field a team but recommended that Staines Giardino continue to train with the men and College Boat Club because her development was far ahead of the other women.
Paired with partner Sue Morgan in the summer of 1974, the first time they rowed together they easily won an exhibition race at the men's national championships against many experienced women's pairs.
Her most memorable Penn rowing experience occurred one bitterly cold March day on the Schuylkill River. An icy fog lay on the water. Ted Nash was selecting rowers for his varsity and junior varsity boats. Several of the men didn't make it to practice so Nash put Morgan and Staines Giardino in the middle of the junior varsity boat, to the men's dismay. They won.
Nash tried all different combinations of men but left the two women in place. They won every time. Staines Giardino recalls, "By the end our hair was frozen. Some of the men had beards and they had icicles hanging off. We were frozen and tired. When we were finally done and got back to the boathouse the whole men's team cheered for us."
After graduation in 1975, Staines Giardino continued to train with the College Boat Club. In the summer of 1976 she and Morgan went to Cambridge, Massachusetts to train with Harvard coach and head women's Olympic coach Harry Parker. Parker saw Morgan and Staines Giardino as part of an eight, not a pair, then cut them from the team. They returned to Philadelphia with two weeks to train before the Olympic trials. They trained intensely with Ted Nash, racing mostly against men's boats, and handily won the trials.
Staines Giardino was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Hackensack High School. She reports "I was gangly in high school. None of the traditional sports appealed to me."
A good student, she didn't know much about Ivy League schools when her counselor suggested Penn. When she found out her English teacher was a Penn alum, Staines Giardino decided to apply.
She planned to study science, but took a drawing class and wound up in Design of the Environment, a rigorous architecture program. She had less trouble blending her athletic pursuits with academics once she met instructor Lyman Perry, a former Olympic rower. She says, "If I hadn't met Lyman my life would have been a lot different." He helped her make her schedule work. In addition to school and sports, Staines Giardino worked as a waitress and then at a bank on the night shift.
While at Penn, Staines Giardino met Cornell rower Michael Staines at College Boat Club. They married in 1974 and interrupted their honeymoon to race in the Eastern Sprints.
Like Staines Giardino, Michael Staines was the bow person in a pairs boat without coxwain. He rowed in the 1972 Olympics, and in 1976 he and his partner Calvin Coffey won a silver medal, their performance immortalized by broadcaster Jim McKay who enjoyed the Coffey-Staines motif.
Today she is partner in the firm L and M Design, founded in 2002 with her current husband Michael Giardino. She loves her work and feels that Penn prepared her very well. Her future plans? "We will work until we can't work anymore. We hope our children will be interested in our business one day."
"The discipline of athletic pursuits has carried me through rigorous times in the working day," she says. "However my biggest challenge was facing the course of action necessary to beat breast cancer. Fortunately I have been in remission almost 10 years now. I credit much of my success with the willpower I learned I possessed when I first began to row."
— Suzanne Eschenbach